I smiled as we continued our walk around the lake. “It’s funny you should mention it. I’ve been resisting the urge to suggest the same thing.”
This was in mid-August. I am happy to say that, as of Tuesday, my lovely wife will have been off Paxil for two weeks. It marks the beginning of a new stage of our lives together; one, hopefully, now and forevermore, free of clinical depression.
In February of this year, I posted about her stuggles – actually our struggles – in an article called “Our Valentine’s Day Victory.” To summarize, my heartmate has lived nearly half her life under the dark cloud of clinical depression and has been on anti-depression meds for the past 12 years. However, this year she started to show signs of recovery. I can’t tell you how momentous the progress has been. I had to update our story.
I’m sure that everyone’s path to recovery will look different, but I believe the following, in a no-particular-order-often-overlapping way, played a huge part in my Mrs’ recovery.
1) The desire to change
“So, you don’t really like being around other people, you’re claustrophobic and marginally agoraphobic. Just curious… do you have any desire to change?” I asked her one day while driving in the car.
“Honestly? Not really,” she replied matter-of-factly.
I was crushed. How could my Mrs. not see how limiting the depression was? To her. To me.
But it appears that kind of deep apathy is pretty common among those suffering from depression.
Fortunately, that conversation acted as a slow growing seed that eventually took root. Sometime in June, she says she came to the conclusion that “I’m limiting myself by my behaviour.”
Thrive, a song written by Jon Foreman of Switchfoot, is her current theme song and includes the following lyrics:
No, I’m not alright
I know that I’m not right
A steering wheel doesn’t mean you can drive
A warm body doesn’t mean I’m alive
No, I’m not alright
I know that I’m not right
Feel like I travel but I never arrive
I wanna thrive not just survive.
The desire to thrive is a shared theme for both of us right now.
2) Removing stressors
I started to see change in my heartmate within months of her moving from a high-stress ER “head nurse” job to a far less stressful nursing medical support job. She loved the challenges and excitement of Emergency, but it was clearly affecting her mental health. In addition, she found relief when we found a student to live with her aging mother and provide support. Worries about health issues with our daughter and my job dissatisfaction had been weighing on her as well. As each of these circumstances changed for the better, her load of stress diminished. As the stress diminished, so did the symptoms of depression.
Hearing this one shocked me. “One of the things that helped was that I finally started praying for myself.” As someone whose prayer life frankly has me in awe, hearing that my wife prayed was not a surprise. But hearing that this summer was the first time she actually prayed for her own healing still breaks my heart.
“I pray all the time for others and I would pray to be a better mother and wife, but it wasn’t until June that I finally prayed for my own healing. I stopped being selfish. It would be easy to not change and let things stay the same. I don’t like change. But it was as if God was saying, ‘For the both of you, maybe you should pray for yourself.’ I’m not sure this makes sense, but it’s like I finally stepped aside to allow God to work.”
4) Good medical practice
“Do you think you still need them?” her doctor would ask non-judgementally about her meds each time she’d visit. He sincerely cared and truly understood the implications of the depression. He also reinforced the idea that maybe one day coming off the meds was a possibility.
When she finally decided to start coming off Paxil, she did a thorough job of researching side-effects and procedures on how to do it properly. Simply going cold-turkey was not an option and she made sure that she approached the task well versed in the available research.
5) Doing happy things
A while back a dear friend not so subtly put a book on depression into my hands to “see what I thought.” Sometimes when you read a book, you take away more of a gist than the actual details. The most important thing that I took from Behavioral Activation for Depression: A Clinician’s Guide by Martell, Dimidjian, Herman-Dunn was the notion that doing “happy people” things can make a person happier and is part of an effective treatment for depression.
This may seem obvious, but in reality most of us don’t do much when we are down. The movie and TV scene where the new breakup victim is sitting alone eating ice cream isn’t a stereotype without cause. For my Mrs, being constantly unhappy meant she never felt like doing anything fun. In BA, the client is challenged to do “happy things” in spite of those initial “I don’t feel like it” feelings. As I read the book, I passed along key findings and concepts to my wife. She did not immediately take up the challenge, but the seeds were planted, so that, by the time she read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben, which reinforced the idea, she was in a mind space to at least try.
Fortunately, I have acquired some awesome friends that are familiar with her struggles, so when it was time for us to test the “Just do it!” philosophy, we had safe environments for my Mrs to dip her toe into. I will be forever grateful to the young couple that invited us over for dinner and made sure she had a special chair to hide in during the event. It is not easy to invite someone over who you know honestly doesn’t want to be there. But they did, for me and for her.
These small successes led to others until, for the first time ever, we had two social events in one week. It was after the second event (we had accepted an invite to play board games) that she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was making progress. Shortly thereafter, she started weaning off the meds.
Something really simple that I adapted from the BA book was the notion of monitoring ones mental state. “What’s your number (from 1-10),” was so much more productive than “How are you feeling?” and usual resulting answers of “I’m alive” or “Meh.” When the daily answer slowly started moving up and then finally levelled off at a consistant 8, my Mrs realized herself that her life was changing. Those numbers helped give her the courage to try coming off the meds.
During the weaning process, she wrote down breakfast, lunch and dinner scores, just to be sure of her own safety during the transition. After stringing together several days of 8’s, she would cut her dose again. Two weeks ago, the meds were gone, but the 8’s remained.
7) Laughter & Distraction
One night I woke up in the middle of the night to the bed shaking. Tears were rolling down my wife’s face and she was turning purple, gasping for air. Thank you Janet Evanovich and to the friends that lent us the books. My Mrs had been reading “One for the Money” and it resulted in the first “oo, oo, I can’t breathe” belly laughs my wife had experienced in ages. She devoured the Stephanie Plum series, reading 17 books in two weeks, laughing all the way. I believe that consistent laughter – consistent joy – tipped the balance, which led up to that fateful walk around the lake, which lead up to me finally getting my wife back.
Actually, check that. I don’t have the woman I married back. Instead I have that woman, changed, more alive and vivacious than before; full of the compassion, wisdom, and thoughtfulness that only trials can bring. There are still places to grow and there have been some adjustments to make (imagine if your spouse suddenly had deep emotions and desires where once there was “numb”), but I am looking forward to traveling through life with this version of my heartmate and I am truly grateful to everyone who helped bring her back to me.